Each week, at the end of “This Week with George Stephanapolis,” there is a recognition of the U.S. soliders who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the previous week. However, they aren’t the only victims of these wars:
The Army has recorded 62 confirmed suicides this year, and half as many more deaths may be ruled self-inflicted. At Fort Campbell, there have been five confirmed suicides this fiscal year.
In 2006 and 2007, there were 217 confirmed suicides in the Army.
At least ninety persons who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have died this year. And while we might be content to ignore this as simply fate, the military knows the reason:
“Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families,” Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said in a news release. “This stress on the force is validated by recent studies of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.”
Yet, as the Tennessean article that these quotes come from notes, there is only one suicide prevention program manager in the country, and that person’s position was only established a month ago.
As bad as these statistics are, they don’t fully reflect the depth of PTSD, depression, and suicide experienced among those who have served, for these numbers only reflect active duty military. Those who have been lucky enough to work their way out are dependent on the VA for treatment, a system that has been stretched by these wars beyond their capacity, and a system that is notoriously dysfunctional in easy times. Back in 2005, CBS news began to research the issue and discovered that the VA had no data on the prevalence of suicide among veterans, although they anecdotally suggested that it seemed high. CBS then undertook the research and learned that veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as the average population. In 2005, the rate of suicide among veterans for the states for which they could get data (45) was 120 per day. While that statistic is for all veterans, those who served in our current wars was still between two and four times higher than that for others of their same age.
This past week, a guy dropped by the church to make an estimate on pest removal service. In the course of our conversation he told me his story as a Vietnam vet who had become a chaplain focused on ministry with veterans.
“The church is ignoring these men and women,” he said. “There is a desperate need for support groups for these folks coming back because if we don’t help them, they won’t get any support.”
He is absolutely right. The problem is that unless our church is located in a military community, we don’t see or think about the walking wounded that live among us, those who have returned and are trying to put their lives back together. I serve a community loaded with apartment communities and youngerish adults which very likely has all sorts of folks who served and are trying to get things back together in their lives. And yet, they go unseen and we don’t do much to try and recognize their presence among us.
I have said many times that we have no clue of the effect that these wars are going to have on us, consequences that we will be dealing with for the next hundred years. The church has got to anticipate the needs for the coming future, for there will be thousands among us in desperate need of the love and forgiveness of God who may become another statistic reported in the papers.